Damage Assessment of Ukraine Dam Disaster Underway

From up close, the catastrophic destruction of the Kakhovka dam in Ukraine appears worse than how it’s depicted in news reports and far off satellite imagery, according to U.N. officials who assessed conditions in the area on Friday.

“We have been visiting this morning with the authorities the communities, the small villages along the river that have been completely submerged by the flooding,” said Denise Brown, one of several U.N. officials who addressed journalists via satellite from the town of Bilozerka, on the west bank of Dnipro River.

“The status situation is dramatic,” said Brown, humanitarian coordinator in Ukraine for the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, OCHA.

“This is a town that is five kilometers from the front line,” Brown said. “Daily shelling, including yesterday, and now because of the destruction of the bridge, which is a result of the war, and now this flooding, which came in the middle of the night. It came very fast, very quickly and people were totally taken by surprise.

“We visited a few homes this morning with people who are, as you can imagine, totally distraught by this latest catastrophe to hit them,” she said. “But I must say, as always, they are incredibly resilient and vowing to stay in their homes.”

Ukrainian authorities report at least 80 towns and villages in the Kherson region are fully or partially flooded, as well as thousands of hectares of agricultural land, with some 17,000 people in government-controlled areas affected by the flooding.

Shabia Mantoo, spokeswoman for the U.N. refugee agency, said, “Many thousands more in the areas under the temporary military control of the Russian Federation, to [which] humanitarian organizations currently have no access, have also been affected.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that it has repeatedly asked the Russian Federation for access to the territories it occupies.

“The Russian Federation has denied us this access,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesman for the OHCHR. “Not only OHCHR monitors, but humanitarian actors cannot get into the occupied territories.”

He added, “We reiterate the broader U.N. call to the Russian Federation to grant access to the occupied territories, to assist clinicians who have suffered from the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the destruction of the Khakhova dam.”

Humanitarian agencies report that Ukrainian authorities, the International Red Cross, as well as U.N., and non-governmental organizations reacted quickly after the dam broke on June 6 by bringing in relief supplies and aiding victims caught in the disaster.

Mantoo said the UNHCR was participating in an inter-agency convoy of five trucks that will be delivering essential relief supplies Friday and Saturday to the worst affected areas of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.

“With interagency partner agencies, we are also currently carrying out damage assessments to understand the scale of the impact of the flooding,” she said.

After humanitarian agencies get on top of the short-term risks, they will have to concentrate on dealing with the more complex long-term risks threatening the local communities.

OCHA coordinator Brown cited the dangers posed by unexploded landmines in the heavily infested Kherson region as a major long-term problem. She said a U.N. mine expert was working with the U.N. system to produce a map of areas where mines were likely to be located and to communicate the threats posed by those weapons to the population, especially to children, who are most at risk of being killed and maimed.

“Mines may have moved and so when the flood waters recede, there may be mines where there were not mines before, which means there are not any markings. And this is a significant risk,” she said.

Laurence agreed noting that “the whole flood zone is a mine-contaminated area.”

However, he added that circumstances regarding the destruction of the dam remained unclear. Therefore, he said that it was “premature to examine the question whether a war crime may have been committed” by Russia in its attacks on the dam and its ongoing shelling of people trying to recover from the disaster.

“We reiterate our call for an independent, impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation,” he said.

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Macron Visits Victims of Stabbing that Shocked France

French President Emmanuel Macron, accompanied by his wife, Brigitte, traveled to the French Alps Friday to be with families of the victims stabbed Thursday in a lakeside park in the city of Annecy. 

The couple’s first stop was a hospital in the French city of Grenoble, where three of the four young children are receiving treatment.  

Government officials said all four children have undergone surgery and are “under constant medical surveillance,” with one child in critical condition. 

The fourth child is being treated in Geneva, in Switzerland.  

It is not immediately clear whether the president and his wife will go to Geneva. 

A man stabbed the children and two adults at the park Thursday morning in an attack Macron said shocked the country. 

All four children suffered life-threatening knife wounds, lead prosecutor Line Bonnet-Mathis said. The youngest is 22 months old, two are 2 years old and the oldest is 3, the prosecutor said.

Police quickly detained the suspect — a 31-year-old Syrian national. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the suspect has refugee status in Sweden.

“The nation is in shock,” Macron tweeted. He described the assault as an “attack of absolute cowardice.”


Video appearing to show the attack circulated on social media. In the video, a man in dark glasses with a blue scarf covering his head wielded a knife as people screamed for help.  

One woman tried to fend off the attacker in the enclosed play park, but she could not stop him from leaning over her stroller and stabbing downward multiple times.  

Two of the young victims were French.  The other two were tourists, one British, the other Dutch. 

Two adults also suffered knife wounds. One of the adults was also injured by a shot fired by police as they were arresting the suspect, Bonnet-Mathis said.  

In Paris, lawmakers paused a debate to hold a moment of silence for the victims.  

The National Assembly president, Yaël Braun-Pivet, said, “There are some very young children who are in critical condition, and I invite you to respect a minute of silence for them, for their families, and so that, we hope, the consequences of this very grave attack do not lead to the nation grieving.”

“Nothing more abominable than to attack children,” Braun-Pivet said on Twitter. 

Some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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Biden, Sunak Announce Partnership on Clean Energy, New Technologies

U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Thursday the Atlantic Declaration, a narrow economic partnership focusing on energy transition and emerging technologies considered critical to national security.

The deal will help the U.S. and U.K. “remain at the cutting edge of a rapidly changing world,” Biden said.

However, the two sidestepped questions about progress toward a broader U.S.-U.K. free-trade agreement that the British Conservative Party promised in 2019 to negotiate within three years of governing.

Thursday’s announcement, covering technologies such as semiconductors and artificial intelligence, followed talks at the White House addressing economic ties and support for Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion.

Pillars of the Atlantic Declaration include ensuring U.S.-U.K. leadership in critical and emerging technologies, economic security, digital transformation and clean energy transition.

According to the White House, the agreement will deepen trade and investment ties, diversify supply chains and reduce strategic dependencies on adversarial powers.

China and Russia are “willing to manipulate and exploit our openness, steal our intellectual property, use technology for authoritarian ends or withdraw crucial resources like energy,” Sunak said during a joint press conference following his talks with Biden.

Free-trade pact

A comprehensive free-trade agreement was once promised in the U.K. as a post-Brexit goal. However, with little appetite for new free-trade agreements in the U.S. Congress, there’s “real pragmatism” from the British side, said Leslie Vinjamuri, director of the U.S. and the Americas program at Chatham House, a London think tank.

She told VOA that Britain is going for selected wins that don’t have to go through Capitol Hill to get traction and can move forward on leading-edge technology issues, especially AI.

AI, which Biden said presents a staggering potential for technological changes, is a key area of concern as both capitals work toward formulating regulations that address key risks without constricting innovation.

“They’re looking at each other’s models to see how they can do that better,” said Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow on global economy and development at the Brookings Institution.

Biden and Sunak are aware that rival China, also a top AI player, has an advantage in that it can ignore privacy issues such as using AI for surveillance and facial recognition, and it “really wants to put its foot on the innovation accelerator,” Meltzer told VOA.

Regulations that balance values and innovation will ensure that the U.S. and the UK. remain leaders in AI, he said, and determine “where China is going to end up as well.”

As part of the deal, the two countries will begin talks on U.K.-produced critical minerals used in electric vehicles and batteries that would be eligible for U.S. tax credits. Similar negotiations are ongoing with the European Union, modeled after a deal signed with Japan allowing certain critical raw materials for electric vehicles to be treated as if they were sourced in the U.S.

Ukraine and NATO 

Biden underscored transatlantic unity, saying: “There’s no issue of global importance, none, that our nations are not leading together.”

He downplayed growing Republican skepticism about increasing defense spending for Kyiv.

“I believe we’ll have the funding to support Ukraine as long as it takes,” the president said.

He declined to say whether Kyiv has initiated its long-anticipated counteroffensive against occupying Russian forces in southeast Ukraine, as some media outlets have reported.

Thursday’s meeting brought together the leaders of the top two military donors to Ukraine, sending a signal ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next month that the allies are committed and unified behind Kyiv.

U.S -U.K. alignment on Ukraine has become even more synergized under the new prime minister, said Andrew Hyde, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center.

“The U.K. feels under Sunak it could go further, in terms of supplying weapons and support for Ukraine in ways that the U.S. as the leader of the alliance really can’t,” he told VOA, noting Britain’s push to supply Kyiv with tanks, long-range missiles and F-16 fighter jets.

“They’ve cleared the ground a little bit for Western assistance, giving the U.S. a degree of distance, plausible deniability,” he said, “eventually opening up the field for more allies to supply at that level of quality of weapons.”

Stoltenberg successor

Biden declined to respond to a question on whether he would support Ben Wallace, the British defense minister, whom Sunak is pushing to be the next NATO secretary-general.

“That remains to be seen,” he said. “We’re going to have to get a consensus within NATO.”

Biden is meeting with outgoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday.

Biden and Sunak’s meeting happened on the heels of an attack on the Kakhovka dam in southern Ukraine. Neither Washington nor London has officially accused Russia of blowing up the hydroelectric dam. But Sunak said, “If it does prove to be intentional, it will represent a new low … an appalling barbarism on Russia’s part.”

Before meeting with Biden, Sunak held talks with congressional leaders and took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. He appeared Wednesday evening at the Washington Nationals baseball game, where the team was honoring U.S.-U.K. Friendship Day.

It’s the British prime minister’s first visit to the United States since taking office in October, but he and Biden have already met three times this year. During the two-day trip, Sunak stayed at Blair House, the president’s official guesthouse, near the White House.

Anita Powell and Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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Kremlin Says Ammonia Pipeline Blast Is Negative for Black Sea Grain Deal 

The Kremlin on Thursday said a blast that damaged a pipeline once used to export Russian ammonia via Ukraine could have a “negative impact” on the fate of a Black Sea grain deal.

The Togliatti-Odesa pipeline, which once pumped up to 2.5 million tons of ammonia annually for global export to Ukraine’s Pivdennyi port on the Black Sea from Togliatti in western Russia, has been idle since the start of the war in February last year. 

Russia has accused Ukrainian forces of blowing up a part of the pipeline, the world’s longest to carry ammonia, in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region on Monday. The regional Ukrainian governor said Russia had shelled the pipeline on Tuesday. Neither side provided evidence to back its allegations. 

Asked by reporters about how the damage to the pipeline could affect the fate of the Black Sea grain deal, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “It can only have a negative impact.”  

He described it as “yet another complication in terms of extending the deal,” adding that Russia did not know “what kind of destruction” there had been to the ammonia pipeline.  

Russia has threatened to walk away from the Black Sea grain deal on July 17 if demands to improve its own food and fertilizer exports are not met. The deal, struck in July last year, facilitates the “safe navigation” of grain, foodstuffs and fertilizers — including ammonia — for export to global markets. 

U.N. officials are continuing discussions with all the parties to the deal, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.  

“We’re continuing our efforts through as many avenues as we can, given the importance of all of this to the fight against global hunger and ensuring that the prices of food do not spike on the global market,” Dujarric told reporters.  

The United Nations and Turkey brokered the Ukraine grain Black Sea export deal to help alleviate a global food crisis worsened by conflict disrupting exports from two of the world’s leading grain suppliers. 

To help persuade Russia to allow Ukraine to resume its Black Sea grain exports last year, a separate three-year agreement was also struck in July in which the United Nations agreed to help Russia with its food and fertilizer exports. 

Dujarric said top U.N. trade official Rebeca Grynspan was due to meet with Russian officials in Geneva on Friday “as part of our routine contacts on our efforts to facilitate the trade in Russian fertilizer and Russian grain.”

Russian Industry and Trade minister Denis Manturov said earlier Thursday that Moscow had no access to the damaged part of the pipeline and did not expect to be granted it, the Interfax news agency reported. 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that it would take one to three months to repair the damaged section of the pipeline.

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Azerbaijan Asks for Postponement of US-Hosted Talks with Armenia

The timing of new U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which had been expected to start Monday, is now uncertain despite the U.S. administration’s conviction that direct dialogue between the two nations is key to any stable peace agreement.

“At the request of the Azerbaijani side, the next round of discussions planned to take place next week in Washington D.C. is postponed,” Armenia’s foreign ministry spokesperson Ani Badalyan said in a statement Thursday on social media. “The public will be duly informed on the new timeframes of the meeting.” 

Badalyan had previously stated that foreign ministerial talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan scheduled for June 12 would be aimed at stabilizing relations between the neighboring rivals and reaching a peace treaty.

The countries have had a decades-long conflict involving the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which is inside Azerbaijan but populated predominantly by ethnic Armenians.

When asked Thursday whether the talks have been postponed, a State Department spokesman told VOA, “Regarding the date of the next round of talks, we don’t have any specific dates to announce at this time.”

Experts predict difficult talks whenever they begin, saying there are many obstacles to a durable peace deal between the two countries.

“Even though the [Nagorno-Karabakh] region is recognized as a part of Azerbaijan, the Armenia government will likely not sign a peace treaty with Azerbaijan unless the Azerbaijan government provides assurances about the security and safety of the Karabakh Armenians,” said Heather Ashby, acting director for U.S. Institute of Peace’s Center for Russia and Europe program.

“Azerbaijan’s plan for incorporating Karabakh Armenians into Azerbaijan will play an important role in the peace talks,” Ashby told VOA on Thursday.

Armenia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on June 6 tweeted that Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, Dereck Hogan, had “discussed key issues of normalization process” of Armenia-Azerbaijan relations ahead of the talks.

They discussed “border delimitation and security” as well as the “rights and security” of people living in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, the ministry tweeted.


Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov had acknowledged the coming meetings and the need to prepare an agreement to normalize relations with Armenia, while expressing uncertainty about the duration of the peace process, according to VOA’s Azerbaijani service.

At the State Department, deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters during a briefing this week that the United States looks “forward to hosting another round of talks in Washington as the parties continue to pursue a peaceful future in the South Caucasus region.” 

“We continue to believe that direct dialogue is key towards reaching a durable and dignified peace,” said Patel, while declining to confirm the date that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would host the peace talks. 

If the meetings take place next week, they will follow peace talks hosted by the State Department in early May, when Blinken said “tangible progress” had been made toward an agreement. 

The top U.S. diplomat said he believed a peace deal was “within sight, within reach” at that time.  

Meanwhile, tensions remain high between the two former Soviet republics over Azerbaijan’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which is the only land route giving Armenia direct access to Nagorno-Karabakh.

“As a starting point for improving security, we call on Azerbaijan to take steps to ensure constant gas and electricity supplies to Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as to ensure the free flow and movement of goods and people, including through the Lachin Corridor,” said Ambassador Michael Carpenter, the U.S. envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, on June 6. 

He urged all sides to “refrain from provocative, threatening, or hostile actions or rhetoric,” while pledging Washington’s support for “a durable and sustainable peace agreement.”  

The Lachin Corridor allows supplies from Armenia to reach the 120,000 ethnic Armenians in the mountainous enclave. The corridor has been policed by Russian peacekeepers since December 2020.

The blockade has left those ethnic Armenian residents in Nagorno-Karabakh without access to essential goods and services, including life-saving medication and health care, according to Amnesty International. 

The rights group said Azerbaijan’s government has failed its human rights obligations by taking no action to lift the blockade. 

Azerbaijan maintains the land route is open for humanitarian deliveries, emergency services and peacekeepers. 

In November 2022, Blinken hosted foreign ministers from Armenia and Azerbaijan for peace negotiations at Blair House in Washington. 

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev held face-to-face meetings hosted by Blinken on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in February.

“For any sustainable peace, the populations of Armenia and Azerbaijan also need to see the value of peace,” USIP’s Heather Ashby told VOA.

“For 30 years, they have lived through violence and conflict between the two countries. A peace agreement will have a significant impact on the populations of both countries and it is important not to lose sight on how they may respond and accept a treaty.”  

VOA Armenian and Azerbaijan services contributed to this report.

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Russian Trade Rises Despite Sanctions, as NATO Member Turkey Offers ‘Critical Lifeline’

Despite Western attempts to stifle Russia’s economy through sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine last year, Russian trade volumes with dozens of countries have actually increased since the war began — with NATO member Turkey providing a “critical” economic lifeline for Moscow, according to an analysis by the Washington-based Atlantic Council.

The countries that have increased trade since the February 2022 invasion include several European Union and NATO members, according to the analysis.

“Such surges in trade, however, are not necessarily an indicator of support” for the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the report says. “Instead, it is more likely they are predominantly the result of companies — and countries — pursuing legal opportunities for cheaper exports and new gaps in the Russian market.”


It notes that China’s trade with Russia had already been increasing at an average annual rate of 23% over the past five years, excluding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It said China’s trade with Russia has jumped by another 27% since the Ukraine invasion.

Other countries have seen a far greater increase in trade with Russia since February 2022.

“We see increases of trade across a range of different countries, with places like India and Greece, for example, importing cheap Russian oil at below market prices. And this is what’s causing the surge of trade there,” said Niels Graham, a co-author of the Atlantic Council report, in an interview this week with VOA.

“But we also see other countries like Turkey, for example, exporting a lot of electronics as well as chemical industrial goods to Russia to take advantage of the holes in the Russian market that have been caused by the sort of G7 statecraft response,” he said.

He said that Beijing is actually showing signs of “restraint” since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“China is certainly engaging with Russia, certainly increasing its trade overall, but doing so very much in line overwhelmingly with the red lines the West has drawn — for fear of Western retaliation against China, cutting it off from a much more important Western market,” Graham told VOA.

Russian Oil

India’s trade with Russia has soared by 250% since 2021, the biggest increase by far among Russia’s trading partners.

China and India imported record volumes of Russian oil in May, according to Reuters, totaling about 110 million barrels for the month. Analysts say the world’s two biggest buyers of Russian oil are capitalizing on discounted prices after the G7 group of rich nations imposed a price cap of $60 per barrel in December.

Washington has warned that Moscow is seeking to circumvent the price cap by using the Eastern Siberia Pacific Ocean pipeline along with ports in eastern Russia, where there may be less Western oversight of trading activities.

The West never intended to completely block Russia oil sales, said Graham.

“Doing so against an oil producer as large as Russia would have skyrocketed global oil prices, would have likely tipped the global economy into recession, and would have made a lot of countries angry against Western actions,” he said.

Turkish lifeline

The Atlantic Council report says NATO member Turkey also provides a vital lifeline for Russia’s economy, with trade volumes increasing by some 93% since the invasion.

It said Turkey has sold Russia sensitive material like integrated circuits and semiconductors which could be used in weapons systems.

“Although Turkish exports of electronic machinery, including critical integrated circuits, fell in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion, they have since recovered and grown well beyond the pre-invasion average. From March 2022 to March 2023, Turkish electronic exports to Russia jumped by about 85%,” the Atlantic Council report said.

“To Ankara’s credit, following pressure from the Group of Seven [G7], Turkey has agreed to halt its transit of sanctioned goods to Russia,” the report added. “However, its trade with Russia remains a vital economic lifeline for its businesses as the country recovers and reconstructs from a devastating earthquake earlier this year.”

Turkey assured the European Union in March that it would no longer ship or transit goods to Russia that are subject to sanctions or export controls, according to an EU official quoted by Reuters.

Ankara has denied exporting goods to Russia that could have military applications.

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In Photos: Ukrainians Flee Flood Following Destruction of Kakhovka Dam

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the Kherson region where thousands of people are dealing with the effects from flooding following the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam. The hydroelectric dam in Russian-held territory was destroyed on June 6, flooding dozens of villages and parts of a nearby city, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other for the destruction.

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Four Children Wounded in Knife Attack in French Town, Two in Critical Condition

A Syrian national wounded four children and an adult in a knife attack in a park in the southeastern French town of Annecy on Thursday, police said, leaving some of the victims critically ill in hospital.

The attacker was a Syrian national with legal refugee status in France, a police official told Reuters. He was not known to security agencies and his motives were unclear, an investigative source said.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter that the attacker had been arrested.

Two children and one adult were in life-threatening condition, while two children were slightly hurt, police said.

“Children and one adult are between life and death. The nation is in shock,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement on Twitter, calling the attack “an act of absolute cowardice.”

Witnesses said at least one of the children wounded in the attack was in a stroller. The incident took place at around 0745 GMT in the playground of a lakeside park in Annecy, a town in the French Alps.

“He jumped (in the playground), started shouting and then went towards the strollers, repeatedly hitting the little ones with a knife,” a witness who gave his name as Ferdinand told BFM TV.

“Mothers were crying, everybody was running,” said George, another witness and owner of a nearby restaurant.

The TV channel showed footage of several policemen overpowering an individual in a park. 

“Nothing more abominable than to attack children,” National Assembly speaker Yael Braun-Pivet said on Twitter. Parliament observed a minute of silence to mark the incident.

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